Parker Teff stands far from the basketball hoop and practices his 3-point shots.
Then the 14-year-old works his magic: 23 times in a row, Parker aims the ball perfectly and it swishes in the net.
The young phenom’s basketball skills are all the more amazing because of the challenges he faced in utero and at birth.
Hit the Mitt
What: A new partnership with UCHealth and the Colorado Rockies to support home runs and youth sports and education.
How it works: Each time Rockies players hit a home run that strikes anywhere on the 18-by-30 foot sign in left field, UCHealth donates $5,000 to the Gold Crown Foundation.
When: Starting at the Rockies home opener on April 6 and running throughout the 2018 season.
Why: To support the Rockies and the Gold Crown Foundation, which serves more than 20,000 kids annually through sports and education programs.
During a routine ultrasound when Parker’s mom was about 16 weeks pregnant, she and her doctors winced as the tiny baby in her belly appeared to suffer repeated strokes in his brain. She had to have ultrasounds every three days after that. Remarkably, Parker was OK. Then at birth, the umbilical cord encircled Parker’s neck twice and lack of oxygen left him with cerebral palsy. Again, he’s OK. Thanks to years of therapy and hours and hours of basketball that keep his muscles healthy and loose, Parker is thriving.
The eighth-grader goes to Deer Creek Middle School now, plans to play at Chatfield High School next year, then in college at a basketball powerhouse like Duke or Kansas, then in the NBA. His dream would be to play for his hometown Denver Nuggets.
Thanks to the Gold Crown Foundation, Parker gets to play basketball year-round on three different teams.
“It’s like a second home for me, a place where I always know I’m welcome,” Parker said during a visit to the Gold Crown Field House in Lakewood. “It’s a place I can be me. I don’t have to worry about people judging me.”
Let the slugging begin
Gold Crown supports 20,000 boys and girls annually through youth sports and education programs. Now, courtesy of a new program with UCHealth and the Colorado Rockies, the Gold Crown Foundation will get $5,000 every time Rockies players hit a home run that slams into a new UCHealth “Hit the Mitt” sign at Coors Field, UCHealth will donate $5,000 to the Gold Crown Foundation.
“The more home runs, the better,” said Manny Rodriguez, chief marketing and experience officer for UCHealth. “We all love seeing our Rockies players fire up their bats. Now, every time one of them hits this sign, they’ll be scoring for the team and helping kids like Parker live healthy, extraordinary lives.”
Rodriguez said Gold Crown does a great job of providing opportunities to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have them. That’s why UCHealth is so enthusiastic about supporting the organization.
Founded in 1986 by former Denver Nuggets player and coach, Bill Hanzlik, and his business partner Ray Baker, Gold Crown originally supported girls’ basketball programs. Then, when Jeffco Public Schools stopped providing after-school sports for middle schoolers in the late 1980s, Gold Crown stepped up to fill the void. Now, Gold Crown serves boys and girls, ages 6 to 18, on more than 500 teams in multiple sports, giving away nearly $100,000 in scholarships annually.
“Parker is a great example of the types of players we see in our programs,” Hanzlik said. “We aim to provide as many opportunities as possible to youth in the Denver area and the support from UCHealth and the Colorado Rockies through the Hit the Mitt program will only increase our ability to provide opportunities for more student-athletes like Parker.”
‘A normal life’
Parker’s mom, Autumn Teff, said basketball means “pretty much everything” to her son and their family. Parker plays all year, all the time and all day if he gets the chance. He’s been known to practice free throws and 3-pointers for four or five hours a day when he has time. The Teffs also have a younger son, Tanner, 12, who plays through Gold Crown.
“What does Gold Crown mean to us?” Autumn says. “It makes Parker normal. He gets to be a regular kid and all the basketball keeps him from regressing.
“There’s really nothing else like this on the west side of town. We pretty much live at Gold Crown,” she said.
The fact that Parker’s alive, let alone excelling at school and sports is remarkable.
Back when Autumn had that first ominous ultrasound, doctors became worried that Parker might be born with a fatal genetic disorder called Edwards Syndrome. If he did have Edwards, he would die within hours at birth.
But weeks after the first ultrasound, the Teffs and their doctors watched during another one as Parker reached out with one of his arms and pushed on his mom’s belly. Babies with Edwards tend to curl up in utero, unable to flex their arms and legs.
Parker seemed to be sending a reassuring message: “Hey. I don’t have a genetic disorder, and by the way, I’m going to be into sports someday!”
A powerful athlete who happens to have cerebral palsy
The birth was rough. Autumn and her husband feared that Parker wouldn’t survive. In addition to the umbilical cord problems, Parker came out with a dislocated shoulder. The Teffs had no idea their baby had cerebral palsy (CP) until he was 9 months old.
“We didn’t think there were going to be lasting effects from the pregnancy and birth until we spotted some developmental issues. I realized he wasn’t sitting up when he was supposed to be. He wasn’t crawling when he should have been,” Autumn said.
She sought help right away from experts at Children’s Hospital Colorado. They diagnosed the CP and started Parker immediately on weekly physical therapy and twice-weekly occupational therapy sessions.
CP affects Parker’s muscles on his right side, but his brain development has been great and he’s a whiz at math. Along with basketball in college, he might study engineering.
Parker first started playing basketball with his dad at age 4 and hasn’t stopped since. The Teffs love playing together and watch everything from high school games to college hoops and the pros.
Since Parker was little, Autumn and her husband, Rob, spoke openly with their son and others about his CP. Normalizing it and getting help before he was a year old has transformed him.
“We raised him with the attitude that it’s not a disability. There’s no reason to hide it from your friends. When we meet a new coach, we simply say, ‘FYI, he has cerebral palsy.’”
They also underscore the importance of physical activity for Parker.
“If he stops all this training, he could end up in a wheel chair,” Autumn said. “It’s never going to go away, but he’s been able to overcome it. He’s been able to train and stretch his muscles so much that it’s not noticeable.”
An MVP for his teams and Gold Crown
Parker is left-handed and when he’s concentrating hard on a shot, his right arm sometimes flexes up close to his chest.
Far from letting his CP weaken him, Parker turns it into a secret weapon. Sometimes kids on opposing teams fail to guard him diligently. And that’s when Parker strikes.
“I’m not that fast, but I know how to get around people,” he said, with a sly grin.
He’s also a master of precision. And he practices more than most. Parker has been picked as the MVP of his teams many times. And he’s often the high scorer. His record so far has been 20 points in a game.
One of his favorite players is Nate Robinson, an NBA slam dunk champion who wrote a book called Heart over Height. Parker’s also a fan of Denver Nugget, Jamal Murray.
“He’s so calm and he’s a deadeye from the 3-point line,” Parker said.
The Gold Crown Foundation recently gave Parker a special honor called the Amazing Alex Award, which honors a student who has inspired others. The award celebrates a girl named Alex, who pushed through cancer to inspire her teammates.
Parker said getting the award was pretty cool.
“It gave me a confidence boost, proving to myself that I can do it. No matter what happens to me, I can overcome it,” he said.
Parker has sometimes faced teasing and bullying at school.
“People make fun of kids who have disabilities. It’s not cool,” he said.
But when he hears stupid comments, he walks way.
Parker gets plenty of respect on the basketball court and that’s fine with him.
“I’m an underdog, but I show that I can hang with people.”
Besides, said Parker, “I’m headed to the NBA.”